Pharisees fârˈĭsēz [key], one of the two great Jewish religious and political parties of the second commonwealth. Their opponents were the Sadducees, and it appears that the Sadducees gave them their name, perushim, Hebrew for “separatists” or “deviants.” The Pharisees began their activities during or after the Hasmonean revolt (c.166–142 b.c.). The Pharisees upheld an interpretation of Judaism that was in opposition to the priestly Temple cult. They stressed faith in the one God; the divine revelation of the law both written and oral handed down by Moses through Joshua, the elders, and the prophets to the Pharisees; and eternal life and resurrection for those who keep the law. Pharisees insisted on the strict observance of Jewish law, which they began to codify. While in agreement on the broad outlines of Jewish law, the Pharisees encouraged debate on its fine points, and according to one view, practiced the tradition of zuggot, or pairs of scholars with opposing views. They developed the synagogue as an alternative place of worship to the Temple, with a liturgy consisting of biblical and prophetic readings, and the repetition of the shma, the basic creed of Judaism. In addition, they supported the separation of the worldly and the spiritual spheres, ceding the former to the secular rulers. Though some supported the revolt against Rome in a.d. 70, most did not. One Pharisee was Yohanan ben Zakkai, who fled to Jamnia, where he was instrumental in developing post-Temple Judaism. By separating Judaism from dependence on the Temple cult, and by stressing the direct relation between the individual and God, the Pharisees laid the groundwork for normative rabbinic Judaism. Their influence on Christianity was substantial as well, despite the passages in the New Testament which label the Pharisees “hypocrites” or “offspring of the vipers.” St. Paul was originally a Pharisee. After the fall of the Temple (a.d. 70), the Pharisees became the dominant party until c.135.

See L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (3d ed., 2 vol., 1963); A. Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (1964); L. Baeck, Pharisees (1947, repr. 1966); J. Neusner, From Politics to Piety (1973) and The Pharisees (1985).

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